We are all immigrants here

Photo: Jonathan McIntosh / Wikimedia Commons Protestors march through Los Angeles on May Day, 2006.

Photo: Jonathan McIntosh / Wikimedia Commons
Protestors march through Los Angeles on May Day, 2006.

David Moe
Sun City, Calif.

The history of immigration in America has not been a pleasant story. It has taken two to three generations of immigrant families to establish themselves in America. First generation immigrants were typically given jobs that nobody else wanted. Single women worked in factories (sweatshops) or got jobs as domestic servants in the homes of more established families.

In the mid 1800s, the Irish migration came to America primarily due to the potato famine in Ireland. The land owners could no longer feed them because the English government kept raising their property taxes, so they hired ships to take workers to America, called “coffin ships” because so many died aboard the ships. During the Civil War, men who were drafted did not have to serve if they could get someone to take their place, so men from both sides went to the harbor in New York and hired Irishmen off the ships to take their place—in some battles, most of the men on both sides were Irish. It took a generation for the Irish to get political control in New York, then most of the city policemen and firemen were Irish. Irish were mostly Catholic and most people in the U.S. at that time were Protestant, so they burned Catholic churches as fast as they were built.

Immigrants have always been used as scapegoats for the problems that existed at the time. During World War II, Japanese, German, and Italian immigrant families were not treated with respect. Many were sent to internment camps because they were not trusted and often accused of being spies.

Today, Mexican and South American people are being blamed for the problems in America. It must be remembered that all of us are sons and daughters of immigrants, now established in the American way of life, but we continue to treat the new immigrants the way our ancestors were treated.

The only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn anything from history. We repeat the same cycle over and over again. Our ancestors struggled to give us what we have today; we should be thankful and help the new immigrants have a better life than our immigrant ancestors experienced.

David Moe was born in Minnesota and graduated from the University of Minnesota, Morris in 1964 and received his M.A. degree from San Francisco State University in 1975. He spent four years in the Navy and 32 years in the insurance business. He is married to his wife, Thordis, and they have two daughters and four grandchildren. They now live in Sun City, California.

This article originally appeared in the July 10, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.